A Somalian football drama that doubles as a killing field

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On the beach in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, there are six tall concrete pillars planted in the white sand. The bright blue waves of the Indian Ocean break gently nearby – and often bear witness to some sinister happenings.

Warning: This article contains descriptions that may offend some people

Security forces often bring men to this place, tie them to sticks with plastic ropes, put black masks on their heads and shoot them.

Specially trained members of the firing squad also hide their faces.

The heads of the dead are falling but their bodies are upright, nailed to the stakes. Their loose shirts and sarongs flutter in the wind.

Some blame it on the military base of the Islamic group al-Shabab, which has spread terrorism in Somalia for nearly 20 years and controls large areas of the country.

Some are soldiers convicted of killing civilians or their comrades. Sometimes the court is faced with ordinary criminals who are sentenced to death because their crimes are so serious.

At least 25 people were killed on the beach last year.

The latest person to be executed is Said Ali Moalim Daud who was sentenced to death on 6 March for locking his wife, Lul Abdiaziz, in a room and setting it on fire. He also said that he burned her alive because she asked for a divorce.

Behind the killing center is a small village in Hamar Jajab district – full of torn-down houses and shelters where about 50 families live in what used to be a police academy.

“As soon as my five young boys come home from school, they run to the beach to run or play football,” says Fartun Mohammed Ismail, one of the residents on the edge of the old police training camp.

The victims are on the beach near Hamar Jajab in Mogadishu, Somalia

The killing, when the men are tied to these trees, usually takes place between 06:00 and 07:00 and the local people can watch. [Naima Said Salah]

“They use death poles as goals,” he says.

“I worry about the health of my children because they play with blood spilled when people are shot.

“The place is not cleaned after the killing.”

Graves of those who were shot can be found around the beach.

Mrs. Ismail said her children were used to violence and insecurity because they were born in Mogadishu, a city that has been affected by war for 33 years.

However, he and other parents feel that playing in the blood of accused criminals is excessive.

However, it is difficult to prevent the children from joining their friends on the beach when many parents are trying to make ends meet and do not always want to interfere.

The killings usually take place early in the morning, between 06:00 and 07:00.

Only journalists have been invited to witness the killings but no one is stopping local people, including children, from gathering and watching.

In fact the beach was designated as a massacre site in 1975 by Siad Barre when he was president precisely because the locals could watch.

His military government set prices for Muslim leaders who were shot on the spot for opposing a new family law that gave girls and boys equal rights to inheritance.

Today only the posts remain, although the hosts are no longer encouraged.

However, parents are worried that children who play at the site of the killing are at risk of being shot when someone is killed.

They said that their children are very afraid of the police and the soldiers because they only think of them and kill people in front of them.

Multiple views show the aftermath of a car bomb blast in Mogadishu, Somalia - 29 October 2022Multiple views show the aftermath of a car bomb blast in Mogadishu, Somalia - 29 October 2022

Faduma’s son Abdullahi Qasim was one of the more than 120 people who died in two car bombs that blew up Mogadishu in October 2022. [Getty Images]

“I have trouble sleeping at night and I am always worried,” admits Faduma Abdullahi Qasim, who also lives in an area a few meters from where he was killed.

“Sometimes I hear gunshots in the morning and I know someone has been killed,” he says.

“I try to keep my children indoors all the time. We are sad and inactive. I hate going outside and seeing blood seeping into the sand around me.”

Although many residents of the area are upset about living near the killing fields, many Somalis support the death penalty, especially for members of al-Shabab.

Ms Qasim is unusual in opposing this – especially because her 17-year-old son, who worked as a cleaner at a restaurant, was killed in a massive two-car bombing in Mogadishu in October 2022. More than 120 people died and 300 were injured in the attack, said to be al- Shabab.

“I don’t know the people who are being killed, but I believe that this practice is brutal,” he says.

It’s not just beach kids who play on the sand near the gallows.

Young people from other parts of the city gather there, especially on Fridays, for the weekend in Somalia.

People at sunset on the beach in Mogadishu, SomaliaPeople at sunset on the beach in Mogadishu, Somalia

People flock to Mogadishu’s beaches on weekends [AFP]

One of them is 16-year-old Abdirahman Adam.

“My brother and I come here every Friday to swim and play football in the beach,” he says.

“My sister comes too, dressed in her best clothes to write and look beautiful when we take pictures of her.”

He and others who flock to the beach know about the massacre and the graves of the people who were shot there – but they go regardless.

For them a central and beautiful place is very important.

“People in our class get jealous when they see the pictures. They don’t know we’re hanging out in a killing field.”

Naima Said Salah is a reporter for Somalia’s all-women media house, Bilan Media.

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